La Grande Saline
For nearly 1200 years, the town of Salins-les-Bains has taken advantage of an asset naturally present beneath its land, salt! Over the centuries, mining this white gold made this Jura city one of the most powerful.
Uses of this salt water can be traced back to the 8th century. Originally, salt water springs sprung naturally from the subsoil. The existence of these springs is explained by the presence of a prehistoric sea which, after it evaporated, left layers of salt which were gradually covered with various sediments. Penetrated and washed by rainwater, this salt layer formed a kind of underground salty ocean, a genuine white gold beneath the feet of Salins’ residents.
The transformation of this brine into crystalline salt, and particularly the trade in this salt, would bring fame and fortune to Salins-les-Bains which, in the 17th century, became the second largest city in Franche-Comté and accounted for half of the region’s income.
In the 18th century, the Salins-les-Bains site became too small and lacked the wood to use as fuel. That was when the famous salt works was created in Arc-et-Senans, built by Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, on the edge of the forest of Chaux. Since the saltwater deposits could not be moved, the brine was transported via a 21-kilometre long brine duct, from Salins to Arc-et-Senans! Despite every effort, the Grande Saline’s “little sister” closed in 1895.
The Grande Saline would eventually suffer the same fate in 1962, a victim of changing technologies, a failure to modernise techniques and developments in refrigeration systems.
In 1966, the Town of Salins-les-Bains purchased the Grande Saline, making it one of the very first tourist sites relating to industrial heritage. In 1971, the underwater galleries were classified as Historical Monuments. Then finally, in 2009, UNESCO decided to include the Grande Saline on its World Heritage List.